I've always believed in the sheer power of “living the brand” internally, which is where effective employee communications can play such a powerful role. Recently I asked my communications colleagues on LinkedIn what they thought the role of employee communications was in the context of brand-building. My belief is that companies often overlook the role that employee communications plays. The feedback from my colleagues was pretty much supported my thinking — that internal audiences are absolutely critical when building a brand.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that employees are in fact an organization's most important asset. Some may disagree and say it's the brand, but what they forget is the critical role that employees play as part of the brand. A brand is really about a promise or an experience, meaning the essence of the brand needs to live in everything the company does. Employees have a huge role to play in this because how they represent the company impacts the brand's reputation. And that means employees, and the role of employee communications, is absolutely critical to brand success, and therefore business success.
No matter how good a job you do at building your brand in the marketplace, it will all fall apart if your employees are not engaged and part of that brand — without them you have no brand. So what does that mean? That employees should be the first audience factored into communications, especially in times of crisis when it's particularly important to engage them first — out of respect for them (since it's likely consistent with a core value all organizations have, or should have), and because they can help (or hurt) you. Employees can be one of your biggest points of leverage, if you engage them properly, at any time, crisis or otherwise. Recognize and act on this, and you set yourself up for success. Ignore it and you may set yourself up for failure.
In building your brand you need employee buy-in, so it's not about talking at them, it's about engaging them and giving them the opportunity to provide input and be a source of important feedback about the brand. This gives employees ownership, and also creates alignment with the brand/values. In good organizations this then fosters accountability for living up to the brand, and in times of crisis, for supporting and defending the brand and reputation.
In many ways, a company shows its true colors in the way it communicates with its employees. Does it communicate much with employees? What does it communicate about? Is it transparent and authentic in its employee communications? Is it honest and believable? And, are its communications with employees straightforward and tangible, avoiding the common pitfalls of talking in jargon and the infamous “management speak”, which will turn employees off and potentially create cynics or “haters”, not the ambassadors or “evangelists” you really want to have on board.
You have a real opportunity to enable your employees as brand ambassadors if you engage them and make them feel part of the brand, and then arm them with the right information to portray your business (and brand) in the proper light. Think about it, how can you deliver or stand up for something you don't buy into? This should convince any organization that the engagement of employees right from the outset is important for both clearly understanding and communicating brand values.
Here's something else to think about. Your employees also go home at night, socialize with friends, and interact with others who may have an opinion about or interest in your brand. Don't ever underestimate the power of a cocktail party conversation or a seemingly innocent interaction an employee may have “on their own time”. You want to have them promoting your brand and exuding your brand values at every opportunity. As an added bonus, by having internal buy-in to your brand values you will also have an easier time retaining your best people and recruiting individuals who will also share and promote your brand values going forward. What else can you ask for?
If this hasn't convinced you of the importance of employee communications in brand building, and why employee communications matters, I'm not sure what will!
P.S. The same thinking applies for not-for-profits with respect to their very important volunteer base, who are in essence an extension of the employee base and therefore key ambassadors for the organization.